Thursday, 13 February 2020
Pensions and Benefits
I rise to speak on the motion of my outstanding colleague, Senator Siewert, who's been campaigning on issues of raising Newstart and looking after ordinary Australians for as long as she's been drawing breath—certainly as long as she's been in this place. Today we've asked the parliament to spend time debating the low rate of Newstart and the insufficient rate of disaster payments, which don't meet people's needs and can exacerbate the difficult circumstances that people are experiencing in the face of bushfires and the drought. We're calling on the federal government to immediately raise the rate of Newstart by at least $95 a week and to raise the disaster recovery payment to $3,000 per adult and $1,000 per child.
The context for us continuing to bring these issues forward is what we've just seen wreaked upon our nation over the summer and what many parts of the east coast are still experiencing now that the fires have turned into floods. I'm getting constant weather updates for rivers near my house as well, so this is real for each and every one of us in this chamber, just as it is real for the people out there. The context here is that people who have just lost their homes—we know 3,000 people and counting have now lost their homes in these devastating fires—have reached out to their government for support, and in many cases they're still waiting. The delays in accessing the disaster recovery support and the inadequacy of that payment when it does eventually come through are just adding insult to injury.
It brings to mind the Prime Minister's visit to a number of bushfire ravaged communities. Cobargo is, of course, the most well-known example. The Prime Minister didn't bring any supplies to that community. He rocked up and tried to force people to shake his hand. He wasn't offering any kind of solution to the climate crisis that's driving these natural disaster events, which we're seeing getting worse and more frequent. He wasn't offering any solution to help prevent the problem, and he wasn't offering any more funding to help people recover. This meagre payment, which hasn't had a rise since 2006, is too small, and it's taking forever to actually reach the people that need it.
We know that that was the situation all summer, and this is exactly why we've been supporting the calls to increase that disaster recovery payment. At the moment it's a one-off payment. It's $1,000 for adults and $400 for children who've been adversely affected by a major disaster. It's been at that level since 2006, and that is not enough money. If you've just lost your home, you're having to pay to rent somewhere else to stay if you don't have friends that you can couch-surf with. You're having to pay all of the ordinary daily expenses, such as sending your kids to school, putting food on the table and getting around the place. You have this additional accommodation expense and, moreover, you've just lost all your belongings and the very roof over your head. A thousand bucks is not enough. We strongly support the call to increase that payment to $3,000 for adults and to $1,000 for children.
I note that the Prime Minister kind of implicitly acknowledged that the amounts were too small, because he did in fact say that the payment for kids would go up by $400. So that's a welcome acknowledgement, but it's still not enough, and he really needs to listen to those communities when he visits them and hear the desperate need and then use his power, as the Prime Minister, to do something about it and to provide the help and support that those communities and those people desperately need in the wake of these disasters—and take climate action while he's at it.
It didn't escape anybody's notice that there was a wonderful coming together of the Australian spirit and that people were getting behind fundraising efforts. In particular, one of my favourite comedians, Celeste Barber, has raised more money for bushfire victims than this government. That is an embarrassment. Good on her—she's fabulous and she's done wonderful work and she's now helping people—but this government is letting people down.